The Illusion of Inspiration

Erin Darby Gesell

© Copyright 2018 by Erin Darby Gesell


Photo of moon setting over the ocean.

I am a runner. In the physical senseóI train for and compete in ultra distance races on the regular, and I wish it were socially acceptable to run everywhere I go rather than walkóand in a less literal sense in that I need to skip town as frequently as possible.

In an emotionally complex chain of events that I am only just now beginning to realize, contradictory to everything I am, I bought a house five years ago. I think that this decision was an attempt to anchor myself. I did it in my wayówhite girl from small town Nebraska buys a beautiful old house in North Omaha, a predominately black neighborhood, alone. In committing myself to that house, to Omaha, to Nebraska, places I was so desperately escaping each weekend, I lived in total rebellion with myself.

I would never consider myself a rebel. Iíve always, always been a good kid/employee/friend/partner/whatever. After I bought this house, I was promoted to management at my job. I loved my job. In contradiction to running away from things, I am stupid loyal. So when my boss said we need you to manage things, my loyalty said OK, I can do this, committing myself to another thing.

But in the back of my head is this voice saying, f- it all! Screw capitalism and social norms! Go live in a van in the forest! On bad days I think, yeah, Iím gone! But a voice deeper inside of me knows that this would be fun for maybe a month. Then Iíd probably feel like a total piece of crap because the world is a crappy place and I have things to say and an able body to dedicate to some cause somewhere.

I spent a month getting my house ready to sell. The second to last week in September, I listed my house and book a trip to Oregon the first week in October. ďIím going to Oregon to volunteer with the National Parks Service I tell my friends, family, and clients.Ē Youíre such an inspiration, I want your life, they tell me. I shrug. If I were really that cool, Iíd figure out a way to make travel and volunteering my life.

There were pretty horrible forest fires last fall in Oregon. I assumed this would mean people would be jumping for joy to have volunteers. It actually meant that everyone is so busy that, unless you are a volunteer firefighter, they donít have time to deal with you. I call and email and email and call and finally, the day before I leave, Debra asks me if Iíd like to collect thermographs with her in Umpqua National Forest. I have no idea what a thermograph is but f--k yeah, Iíd like to do that! Debra is instantly my best friend.

I fly into Portland and get my rental car. Contrary to great urging by the rental car guy, I refuse to pay for extra insurance. I want to tell him, dude, Iím so cheap I plan on sleeping in this Toyota Highlander while I live in the forest the next few days, but decide against it.

My first day in Oregon was spent with one of my closest childhood friends on her weed farm so that I can hang with her and her new baby. Her husband is deep in the throws of marijuana harvest. Again, I wish I could tell you I rebelled hard and smuggled a bunch of pot back, and got caught and my life were way more exciting, but itís not, Iím not. Walking into their drying shed with workers trimming buds of 48 plants (each plant produces about 5 pounds of weed) and plants hanging from the ceiling was thrilling enough for me.

My friend reads tarot cards and her online business is booming. Her baby is beautiful and healthy. Her husband excitedly tells me about his business and my heart is so full of their happiness. We talk about the upcoming full moonóboth the baby and I have a hard time sleeping with the full moonóand politics and these horrible new trends of women eating their placentas after birth and flat earthers. I tell them Iím selling my house, that Iím going to go down to part time at my job, that I donít know what Iím going to do next. They tell me Iím an inspiration.

My house sold the day after I listed. I knew that when I got home, Iíd have three weeks to find a place to live. And that Iíd have three weeks to get anything the buyers need ready to finalize the sale. I was twenty-nine years old and planning the sale of everything I owned but my dogís bed and my Jeep.

The next day I volunteered with Debra. Sheís magnificent. We were spending 9 hours together that day so I didnít want to step on her toes too much. We spent the first hour feeling each other out, skirting around politics until I finally tell her I guess part of the reason Iím volunteering with her is in response to a Trump presidency.

Then weíre on a roll. She tells me about her first womenís march in the seventies and then marching on Washington in the nineties. We talk about being bleeding heart liberals in, my case a red state, in her case a red county. She tells me how much easier it would be to just move the 65 miles north to Eugene. I nod. Iíve thought this so many times. But instead I tell her to think how much more her voice means in a community that needs those voices of change. When I leave that evening, she hugs me and tells me I am an inspiration and to never give up the fight.

I have a two-hour drive to the coast, where Iím camping for the evening. I drive west to Humbug Mountain State Park, and on my way realize, I havenít seen the sun set over the ocean since grad schoolóover three yearsóIíd like to get to the coast to watch the sunset. I speed. I weave through the mountains and my phone is dying and there are two radio stations that I can get in this area: Jesus stuff or NPR. I love NPR, but when you are hauling through the mountains, chasing the sun, NPR isnít exactly spurring you on in that race.

Itís pitch black by the time I make it to the ocean. I can hear it, smell it, see it in the full moonís light, but I donít see the sunset. I make camp in the back of the Highlander. Iíve nothing to do so I go to bed at 9 pm after sending my mom the ďIím AliveĒ text. Again, not a rebel.

The next morning I wake before the sun rises. I plan to have a full day of runningóI want to do about twenty miles in two different parks so I need to get going. Before Iím ready to run, I walk through the campground toward the sound of the ocean. The sky is the most beautiful rainbow of pink, orange, and blue. Framed between two mountains is the moon. Instead of looking at the water then making my way back to camp to change and run, I sit down. I listen to the waves and watch the moonset and remember what my friend told me about the feminine moon eclipsing the male sun in a year that has seemed like women will fall three steps back. I have the beach all to myself and I think that it just might be an inspiring thing to love yourself enough that youíd fly halfway across the country to sit on a beach alone.

Erin Darby Gesell is a writer, Louder Than a Bomb coach, ultra marathon runner, yogi, and lover of chocolate, dogs, and all things fictional. She obtained her BFA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in Creative Writing and Spanish and her MFA from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She lives in a van, working remotely, and giving her dog the adventure life he deserves. Her short stories have been published in various journals including: The Riding Light Review, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, the anthology For Books' Sake, an anthology by Zimbell House Publishing, and her flash fiction has been anthologized for best flash 2017.   

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